GALENA, Ill. — The two candidates to serve as Jo Daviess County state’s attorney squared off Tuesday night, taking aim at each other’s experience and vision for the office.

Incumbent John Hay, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Ronald Leinen are vying for the position in the Nov. 8 election. About 70 people attended the candidate forum held at Galena Middle School and hosted by League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County.

Both candidates did not hold back in criticizing each other’s past experience as attorneys.

Throughout the debate, Hay referenced Leinen’s lack of experience as a prosecutor, something Hay said he has in spades. Hay has served as state’s attorney in Jo Daviess County since 2012 and was assistant state’s attorney for Stephenson County from 2007 to 2012

“Experience is everything,” Hay said. “When I look at my opponent’s experience as a prosecutor, it is limited, in my opinion.”

Leinen said he has plenty of experience in criminal court as a defense attorney, stating he has the knowledge to be the county’s prosecutor. He has served as an attorney for 15 years, working in both criminal and civil law, and is president of Jo Daviess County Bar Association.

“I have plenty of experience as a criminal defense attorney,” Leinen said. “A lot of things do cross over.”

Leinen attacked Hay’s record as state’s attorney, arguing that he did not bring enough felony cases to trial.

“Almost all of his felony cases end up with pleas,” Leinen said. “In all his time as state’s attorney, he’s only had one felony case go to trial.”

Hay countered by saying that felony cases ending with plea deals are common and that it’s often a smart move for the prosecution.

“You don’t go to trial just to go to trial,” Hay said. “You go in understanding the risks and rewards, and a lot of times, the best action is to reach a plea.”

Throughout the forum, both candidates answered questions submitted by audience members. Topics included dealing with victims of domestic abuse and how to avoid conflicts of interest in court.

On several occasions, the candidates agreed on topics, including the importance of transparency in the state’s attorney’s office as well as the necessity of prosecuting cases involving the use of a gun.

One area in which the candidates disagreed was in how to represent the county on legal cases.

Leinen said Hay’s office was not as involved with the county as it could be, pointing to times when county officials have hired outside counsel to handle civil cases.

“If I become state’s attorney, then I will work on every civil case that is brought to the county,” Leinen said. “Hiring out these cases to outside counsel can foot a very large bill.”

Hay cited his fiscally conservative approach to the state’s attorney office’s budget.

“I came in under budget every year as state’s attorney,” Hay said. “I’ve cut costs where they can be cut.”

Event attendee Ted Williams, of Galena, said he was impressed with the number of topics addressed during the forum. He said he felt that both of the candidates offered little in diversity of ideas.

“Neither of them were presenting anything particularly new,” Williams said. “They were both kind of just falling in with the status quo.”

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